With just two games left in the Houston Texans‘ 2013 preseason, things are starting to materialize at each position between who is becoming a safe bet to stick on the final 53-man roster and who is likely to be unemployed the first week of September.
With this in mind, I’ll be monitoring the progress of numerous positions this week to gauge who is in the lead to win a job and who could be looking at having theirs stolen. Today, we continue with the outside linebacker position.
When camp started, the biggest worry on the defense was at inside linebacker. In fact, there was so much hand wringing after the team went through the draft without adding anyone for the inside that it’s hard to remember much else. But just over a month into camp, the outside has become the biggest question mark headed into the 2013 campaign.
The starters on the outside are planned to be Brooks Reed and second-year man Whitney Mercilus. However, here we are just two and a half weeks away from the season opener, and Mercilus has yet to get out of the tub after nursing a hamstring. He’s a first-round pick that this team needs to get on the field and act like one. I’m still high on Mercilus and think it will work out fine in the end, but if fans are getting this frustrated with him, you can only imagine the coaching staff.
Reed is a nice player that is going to get you an effort sack once in awhile; he is above average against the run and will make a fine play once in awhile. However, there is nothing special about him. I think this was apparently how the team felt, too, when they drafted two more outside linebackers in the most recent draft. However, neither of them have shown much in camp yet.
Sam Montgomery got off on the wrong foot when he showed up so out of shape that he failed a conditioning test and started training camp on the NFI list. Right after that, he rolled his ankle and was in a walking boot and sidelined for a couple of weeks. To expect much out of him as a rookie at this point would be surprising.
Trevardo Williams had been so disappointing over the first three weeks of camp that there are even some predicting that he could be a shocker cut. I’m not in that camp, as he is learning a new position and is incredibly raw. But neither of the draft picks look ready to supplant Mercilus or Reed, regardless of how they play.
If the team keeps five outside linebackers, as I predicted earlier, then who gets the fifth spot after Reed, Mercilus, Williams and Montgomery?
Early indications would tell you that special teams captain Bryan Braman will get the nod. He’s a demon when it comes to teams and as bad as that unit can be sometimes, they can’t afford to let him go. If only he brought anything to the defensive side of the ball, then there wouldn’t be such a divide on him among Texans fans.
The nice story guy is Willie Jefferson, but he just doesn’t have enough moves yet to supplant Braman at this point and will undoubtedly be stashed on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Lastly, we have Justin Tuggle, who might be more well known for being the son of (should be) future Hall of Fame linebacker Jessie Tuggle. He has started both preseason games in Mercilus’ absence and will get a look if the team carries six guys for the outside. Delano Johnson punched his ticket out of town with his knucklehead penalty that got him an earful from Gary Kubiak last week.
It is a position that has a lot of question marks headed into the season and if the rookies don’t develop fast, it could be another season of J.J. Watt rushing the passer while everyone else just watches.